Catching up, Part II

When it comes to state politics, if something feels different in the last couple of days, it is because things have — indeed — changed. A new crop of officeholders have taken office, namely Attorney General Ken Paxton, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton and a few new members of the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. In the next week, Governor-elect Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick, respectively, will assume their offices at the top.

Despite not yet taking office, both men have already staked out positions both toward the far-right and toward the middle (leaning a little more to the former option). First, as the San Antonio Express-News reports, Abbott went on the offensive earlier this week on what he called the “Californization” (Californication?) of Texas. Specifically, he took issue with municipal bans on tree-cutting, plastic bags and fracking.

Evidently, Abbott finds municipal bans on cutting down large trees uniquely objectionable, and he openly compared the practice to “collectivism.” He similarly fumed over municipal bans on single-use plastic bags, enacted in cities such as Austin and Laredo. The bag bans have particularly drawn the ire of legislators and politicos since they must spend so much time in the state capital. Finally, Abbott took a firm stance against Denton’s recent referendum to ban fracking within its city limits. Since the enactment of the ban in November, numerous legislators have filed bills to prohibit such bans statewide, and Abbott now looks amenable to signing such a bill.

All this being said, perhaps there is something to be said for Abbott having at least one pragmatic side in office. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an editorial examining if Abbott is coming around on medicaid expansion. The statewide sentiment has recently turned against the opponents, but I’d still say true expansion is a longshot. Back in November, I opined in The Daily Texan that this was a possibility nonetheless, well before anyone else did.

Moving onto Dan Patrick, he recently outlined his legislative priorities in a series of interviews. The Texas Observer reports that Patrick would be fighting for an ambitious conservative agenda while in office. The topics outlined were garden variety right-wing ideas involving tax cuts, immigration and school privatization, but a few novel specifics stood out. Among them was a proposal to rescind state funding for the Public Integrity Unit within the Travis County District Attorney’s office. The PIU, always overseen by a Democratic DA hailing from Austin, is typically a thorn in the side of prominent Republican officeholder, be it former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, former Congressman Tom DeLay or Governor Rick Perry.

The Texas Tribune also looks at Patrick’s historically animosity toward the Senate’s 2/3rds rule. For those of you playing at home, the 2/3rds rule is an anachronism for the chamber stemming back to when it was comprised exclusively of Democrats. It requires the votes of 21/31 senators to advance any particular piece of legislation during the regular session. Patrick will likely get the needed votes to lower that threshold to 19 votes, conveniently just below the 20 Republican votes in the upper chamber.

However, as the Brownsville Herald reports, Patrick could have at least something of a mind toward bipartisanship. State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-Hidalgo County) has been selected as the President Pro Tempore of the chamber, meaning he would serve as the President of the Senate in the lieutenant governor’s absence.

Last but not least, as the Houston Chronicle reports, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has dedicated his first official act in office to implementing so-called “cupcake amnesty.” About a decade ago, the Department of Agriculture (which has power over school lunches) opined against parents packing cupcakes and other sugary foods in their children’s lunches. The policy was quietly reversed last year, and now Miller is wishing to publicize the change. Miller also noted that he has set his sights on removing restrictions on sodas and fries.

“We’ve been raising big, strapping healthy young kids here in Texas for nearly 200 years and we don’t need Washington, D.C. telling us how to do it,” Miller said.

Glossing over the obvious problems with that statement, Miller made a lot of sense when he noted that local control should be trumpeted in these cases. Sadly, it seems that local control is not respected unless it is convenient for Republicans, as Abbott has clearly shown.

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Reality Check, Part V

First and foremost, a poll was released by The Texas Tribune today that appears to place the final nail in the Democrats’ coffin. Now, as I have opined time and time again in the past, I’m not really a fan of the Tribune’s polling, so take this with a grain of salt. But with Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, leading State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, by a whopping 16 points, the margin of error is taken care of more than five times over. I’ve attached the polls for all of the statewide non-judicial contests.

TGov

TLtGov

TSenate

TAG

TCompt

TLandCom

LAgCom

LAgCom

Of note, because of rounding errors, the Land Commissioner poll should not equal 100. Excel insisted upon putting Bush’s total at 51% anyways, but the Tribune poll only put 50%.

These polls put the Democratic deficit anywhere from 15 points (Agriculture Commissioner) to 26 points (US Senate). The poll basically insinuates that there are people who are voting for Wendy Davis, yet are splitting their ballots for Dan Patrick. Or thinking that Jim Hogan is a sensible, qualified and tempered candidate for Agriculture Commissioner (he’s none of those things), and yet Ken Paxton is the superior choice for Attorney General. Do these people truly exist? Are Texans truly that inept? I say no, and think those absurdities prove that the poll is just a bunch of stuff, as the Vice President would put it.

The polls also show third parties getting huge percentages of the vote, sometimes nearly 20%. That’s a little bit silly, considering that they rarely surpass 5%. I tend to think the reason for their gross overperformance is that the poll is largely conducted via eager participants on the internet. You know, the people who have the extra zeal to come up with their own outlying political views.

Let’s get something clear, no statewide Democrat is going to win this year. That much I am certain of. But the Democrats don’t have to literally win in order to win, as counter-intuitive as that might sound. The slate needs to outdo Bill White’s performance in 2010, which was roughly 42%. Ideally, they should do well enough to lift the ticket in Bexar County (San Antonio), Harris County and Nueces County (Corpus Christi) enough to elect some local Democrats. But showing progress from the last election is the most important thing. Battleground Texas will keep registering voters, demographics will keep moving in a good direction and Texas will transition inch-by-inch into a purple state. Vox made a similar point today.

Bud Kennedy at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted today, though, that the Texas Democrats have a considerable chance on not outdoing their 2010 performance. If the slate is less than 42%, alarm bells will ring. If it ranges from the high to low 30s, as this poll might suggest, it will be Armageddon for Texas politics. Battleground Texas will likely disband. National Democrats will think of the short-lived project to turn Texas blue and shake their heads. In the bars of Manhattan and Capitol Hill, it will be thought of with the same naivete as the New Coke debacle. I really don’t want that to happen.

Through the first four days of early voting, the numbers are negligibly different from four years ago, with some minor differences I’ll note in tomorrow morning’s issue of The Daily Texan. That will be what determines how well Davis does. So please, please, vote.

Texpatriate endorses for Railroad Commissioner

The Texas Railroad Commission, despite its byzantine name, is responsible for the regulation of oil and gas throughout the state. It is an enormous responsibility for a state so inextricably linked with the creation of energy. With three commission members serving staggered terms, a sole commissioner seat will be up for election this year.

The incumbent, Barry Smitherman, has been a terrible commissioner in his limited tenure. Between focusing on red-meat social issues that have little to do with energy and neglecting his duties for an ill-fate run toward higher office, Smitherman has — as Chairman of the Commission — reduced the position to a rubber stamp for the oil and gas industry. With Smitherman retiring, Republican candidate Ryan Sitton looks certain to continue this legacy.

Now, in the midst of Texas’ biggest oil boom since the 1970s, being friendly to the industry is not necessarily a bad thing. The recent rev-up in production has the capacity to revitalize the lives of countless Texans and send our economy into overdrive. But the point of a regulatory body is not merely to be a cheerleader for the industry, but to protect the public and foster policies for the benefit of the entire community.

Sitton, an oil and gas engineer, appears complacent to continue along with business as usual. On the other hand, Steven Brown, the Former Chairman of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, wants to ensure people are protected above all else. Though not classically trained in the industry, Brown has proven himself to have an impressive mastery of all the issues that the commission faces.

At issue here more than anything else is the dispute over hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as “fracking.” The process involves injecting high-pressure liquid into shale rocks that contain natural gas and petroleum, making previously unreachable resources available. Without a doubt, these processes have left a positive mark on Texas. They have helped expedite weaning us off of foreign energy sources, as well as enriching portions of the state and jumpstarting the economy.

But real concerns remain. Namely, the freshwater of these regions has been comprised and some evidence exists that these procedures can cause minor earthquakes. This has prompted many liberals and others affected to call for an outright ban, if not a moratorium, on the measure.

For Brown’s part, he has been more tempered. He wishes to end some fracking into those areas with serious earthquakes, as well as ban the use of freshwater for fracking, but he does not merely want to end the largely successful practice. This measured approach is far superior to Sitton’s mindset, which is to ignore the myriad complications that have arisen.

Additionally, we simply cannot take Sitton seriously as a candidate considering his serious ethical breaches throughout the campaign. As someone who has a significant interest in many oil companies, Sitton originally defiantly stated that he would not divest his interests if elected, despite the fact that he would have regulatory power over those same companies. Only much later did he reverse his stance in an insincere effort to carry favor with voters. This led us against endorsing Sitton in the Republican primary for the post, despite the fact that we agreed with him on policy more than his opponent in that election.

Thus, it would be an easy choice to support Brown in this election. But we also tend to agree with him more on policy choices and actual issues that the commission might face. He wants to be for the people, Sitton wants to be for the profits.

Accordingly, this board endorses Steven Brown for Railroad Commissioner.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Terrible, terrible poll

The Texas Tribune has released its newest poll, and the results continue to paint a bleak picture for the campaign of State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor. The poll has her down 12 points to Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate. The poll also examined Statewide races up and down the ticket and found that Democrats were doing miserably bad in all of them. Most all of these polls included Libertarian and Green candidates, for what it is worth. Additionally, undecideds boasted pretty good showings in all of these races, and the number only got bigger the further down the ballot one traveled.

As many will remember, the Tribune commissioned an extensive poll in February that was not worth the non-existent paper that is was not printed upon. Among the many terrible predictions it made was that Kesha Rogers and Debra Medina led the plurality in their respective primaries. Rogers barely squeaked into a runoff and Medina came in a distant last place in a race where one candidate (Hegar) won outright. I went after the Tribune with a wrench in the Daily Texan a couple days after the preliminary primary completely discredited their polling, noting that we should not waste our breath analyzing something so unreliable anymore.  As my friend Charles Kuffner noted yesterday, the Tribune polls should be “in time-out,” meaning that we have to very look at what they have to say quite critically.

Click here to read more!

Other GOP runoffs

As I previously noted in my Dan Patrick analysis, there were three other Statewide GOP primary runoffs last night.  Ken Paxton defeated Dan Branch for Attorney General, Sid Miller defeated Tommy Merritt for Agriculture Commissioner and Ryan Sitton defeated Wayne Christian for Railroad Commissioner. In the former two contests, the clearly denoted “Tea Party” candidate defeated the “Moderate establishment” pick, whereas the latter race was significantly more nuanced. While Christian has a history in public office of using loud and obstreperous right-wing noise to the detriment of actual policy, Sitton also campaigned heavily on right-wing issues. For example, his campaign commercials discussed immigration policy, taking a hard stand on undocumented immigration, despite that it has little to do with the office of Railroad Commissioner, which regulates the oil and gas industries.

Specifically in the Attorney General’s race, Paxton won in yet another blowout, winning almost every county in the State, save a few in the Valley and along the Edwards plateau. The issue with Paxton is a novel one, as he has received no shortage of bad publicity this campaign cycle for some shady dealings. Paul Burka at Texas Monthly lamented Paxton in particular as both a “know-nothing” and someone likely to be convicted of a felony and disbarred. What a wonderful candidate for Attorney General.

Click here for the three obligatory charts!

In re Dan Patrick

Last night, I attended the “victory party” for the David Dewhurst campaign. As one may have expect, the affair for the Lieutenant Governor was rather somber as a result of his crushing defeat at the hands of State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), who usurped the nomination away from the three-term incumbent. In other news from around the State, State Senator Ken Paxton (R-Collin County) defeated State Representative Dan Branch (R-Dallas County) to win the GOP nomination for Attorney General and former State Representative Sid Miller (R-Erath County) defeated former State Representative Tommy Merritt (R-Gregg County) to win the GOP nomination for Agriculture Commissioner. Ryan Sitton also won the Republican primary runoff for the Railroad Commission, besting former State Representative Wayne Christian (R-Shelby County). All in all, it was a fantastic night for the Tea Party in an election cycle where they are losing all over the rest of the country.

Whenever I go to an election watch party, I invariably attempt to befriend the younger faces, out of familiarity I suppose. As a fun aside, this was the first election where some of those “younger faces” were actually younger than me, but that is neither here nor there. What stuck out to me was the degree of hatred pointed toward Patrick that many held. Most everyone I talked to pledged to not vote for Dan Patrick in the fall, with many of them willing to thrust eager support behind State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor.

“It doesn’t matter anyways, Texas will be a blue state in 10 years,” one of them even said. I was shocked at how many of his compatriots appeared to tacitly agree with such a viewpoint, long the immaculate bread and butter of Democratic politics. You know my opinion on this subject, however. It is going to get worse before it is going to get better, and last night was yet another huge step backwards.

Click here to see my obligatory charts!

Texpatriate endorses in Railroad Commissioner runoff

What, exactly, does the Railroad Commissioner do? Hopefully we have been explanatory enough for you to know that it has absolutely nothing to do with the railroads. Simply put, this post serves as the de facto oil & gas czar for Texas, a highly important job in the new Texas oil boom. Admittedly, the opinion of this board is to favor more environmental regulations on these businesses than the candidates in this Republican primary, Wayne Christian and Ryan Sitton. Of course, we also fully repudiate those on the left-wing who believe that all drilling is evil and should be eviscerated. A balancing is needed, one that we fear the candidates will not deliver on.

Take fracking, for example. The revolutionary process opens up previously-unreachable shale sources of energy, which Texas is quite literally riddled with, opening open the possibly of yet another oil boom in this State. The problem is that there are some serious side-effects with this new technology, including pollution and earthquakes. A railroad commissioner should be able to balance environmental interest with economical ones. He should be able to gauge relevant facts on the matter to do this, not being swayed by any sort of partisan dogma. Unfortunately, it is our belief that both Christian and Sitton do this in the unfortunate race to the right that is all too ubiquitous in today’s Republican Party.

Click here to read our picks!